Date Published: 11/10/2020
Kelly Jenks knows the dead boy is going to show him something awful. Jonathan is seven. He never wears shoes, and his feet are always clean. He cruises between this world and the next in a 1967 Cougar XR7. Jonathan has a message for Kelly: There is a faceless man preying on the city’s homeless.
Jackie Carmichael hires Kelly to find an employee who has vanished. The case appears simple at first, but Kelly soon discovers that the missing girl is not who she seems. As Kelly attempts to separate the facts from the lies, Jonathan brings him another message: Jackie Carmichael is hiding something.
With the beaches, mansions, and dive bars of Orange County, CA as the backdrop, Caffeine & Nicotine is a dark and brutal look at what happens when the dead pass sentence.
Oliver Trunk: the proverbial rock in my shoe.
I had spent the last week looking under every overpass and dumpster I could think of. I talked to a bunch of people who said, “Yeah, I saw Oliver last night down at . . .” Insert the name of some bar, or strip club, or parking lot. I was a step behind from the word go. It was making me cranky.
Oliver thought of himself as an entrepreneur, which meant he dealt a little meth and coke, and beat the shit out of his girlfriend if she held back any of her tips. Oliver’s girlfriend was a stripper at a low-level club. In the beginning, Tina Mullins had thought he was charming and kind of cute in a white-trash, Joe Dirt, kind of way. Those days passed quickly, however. Oliver’s newest business plan was to pimp her out on her nights off from the club.
Which is where I came in. Find Mr. Trunk and serve him a restraining order.
I had put out a number of feelers with my fellow down and outs. A hundred bucks for the guy or gal who got me a current line on Trunk. Not where he was yesterday or last week, but where he was that very minute.
The winner was Judy, an old gal who sang the blues at some of the seedier joints in the city. Judy was in her sixties. She only wore blue jeans, green T-shirts, jean jackets, and cowboy boots. I’m not sure about her choice of underwear or bras, but I’d bet she doesn’t wear either of them. She sounded like Janis Joplin when she sang. I’d caught her show a few times. They were generally free, and there was plenty of booze in the places she played, so it was a win-win.
Judy called around midnight and said, “Kelly, you owe me a hundred.” She sounded like Bob Hoskins.
I was kind of inebriated when she called. I had been experimenting with perfecting a Pink Vodka Lemonade all night. It had taken a few rounds before I had an epiphany about adding a little Malibu to the cocktail. Damn, I nailed it after that.
My ability to walk and talk might have been affected.
“Why tonight?” I felt like my enunciation was spot on.
“What? Totally mumbling, Kelly.”
I enunciated harder with a softer word. “Where?”
“Down at Spinnakers. I gotta go. We’re starting our next set.”
“Keep him there.” It came out as “ee im air,” or something close to that.
“Dude, I can’t understand you.”
I tried again. She hung up.
I weighed the pros and cons.
In true drunken fashion, the pros won out. I was over this rock in my shoe.
I made a pot of coffee with double the coffee. I hopped in the shower with water that was too hot. I was hoping the steam would do something. I’m not exactly sure what, but I was determined to erase the effects of the six Pink Vodka Lemonades I had ingested over the last three hours. I toweled off without falling over and counted it as a clear sign that I was no longer falling down drunk. I put on some cargo shorts and a T-shirt, then pulled on some ankle socks and a pair of Nikes. I filled two thermoses with coffee that was slightly thinner than tar. I added them to my trusty backpack, which contained all the tools of my trade: pack of cigarettes, lighter, .45 Beretta px4 Storm, couple Snickers bars, and a bottle of water.
Forty-five minutes after Judy hung up on me, I stepped out of my Airstream trailer and stumbled down the two steps. They’re tricky in the dark, even when I’m sober, so I didn’t count it against myself. My trailer is parked underneath a thirty-foot oak tree. Its trunk has a seven-foot radius. The tree is massive. I don’t know how old it is, or how it is still standing in the middle of the city, but it’s proof that the world isn’t completely screwed up. The leaves whispered in the late-night breeze blowing in from the Pacific: You can do this, Kelly.
My yard was surrounded by an eight-foot corrugated metal wall. I managed to get the latch open, and a five-foot section swung out and away from me. I stepped through the opening, promptly tripped on the bottom lip and went down face-first into the alley.
“Fuck.” I laid there for a few moments with my face pressed against the cool asphalt. I weighed the pros and cons again. The pros still won, although the cons had more of a say this time. I took it as further evidence that I was sobering up rapidly. I regained my feet.
My Cougar was waiting for me in its parking spot. I popped the lock, climbed in, and started her up.
“You got this, my magic car,” I whispered to her. She had never let me down in those types of moments. And there have been plenty. “OK, let’s go.” I dropped her into reverse, hit the gas, and ten minutes later, I was parked in the lot behind Spinnakers. I rubbed the steering wheel and told her I loved her. I fished out a thermos and took a long drink. The coffee bordered on undrinkable, but I choked it down. I lit a cigarette and put my right earbud in, started up the shuffle on my phone and waited.
The moon had taken the night off. I couldn’t see any stars because of the sodium-vapor lights in the parking lot. The handful of cars around me all looked black or white. A dirty white cinder block building squatted at the edge of the lot. The air was washed-out yellow. All in all, a very ugly place.
I was parked next to a ‘95 Mustang. It could have been brown, purple, green, or blue, but it just looked black. That production model of Mustang is probably one of the worst cars ever manufactured, along with its distant cousin, the Pinto. This particular automotive tragedy belonged to Mr. Trunk.
Trunk was the last one out of the bar. He had some assistance from a none too happy bouncer who went by the handle of Axe. The man was a monster. He was six nine, and easily three hundred pounds. He had a spiderweb tattooed on his shaved head. He only worked the Spinnaker on Monday and Tuesday. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday he worked up in LA. He lived local. We’ve had a few friendly conversations over the years. He’s a nice enough guy if you can look past his numerous assault charges and the one attempted murder. I can, so we’re good. I gave myself a mental head slap for not reaching out to him about Trunk.
I checked my phone. 2:13 A.M. Sarah McLachlan was singing in my ear about monsters.
Axe shoved him into the parking lot, and said, “Don’t come back.”
“Fuck off, you overgrown piece of shit.”
Axe laughed, then went back into the bar. I imagine Zeus laughed the same way when mere mortals got snippy with him for bedding their wives.
“Fucking dick,” Trunk yelled, as he weaved over to his Mustang. I was parked next to him. Driver side to driver side. I watched him dig his keys out of his jeans. He dropped them. He bent to pick them up. He fell over. Things were looking up. Trunk was more intoxicated than I was.
He staggered back up, swore, and laughed to himself. Then he crossed the remaining space to our cars. He was an average idiot in an average idiot’s body. Beating up women didn’t require much of a workout. His drug clientele were mostly strung out junkies or high school rich kids. Trunk was trying to restart the white leather high-top fashion craze. I didn’t see it catching on too soon, but stranger things have happened.
He ignored me as I sat in my car smoking a cigarette. As he struggled to get the key into the car door, I said, “What’s up, Oliver?”
He turned around, and said, “I don’t know you, longhair.” He turned back around and began fighting with the keyhole again.
I popped my door open and climbed out. “Longhair? You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
He turned back around. I hit him with a straight right to the nose. It wasn’t my best punch, but he was drunk, and it did the job. He dropped his keys. He fell back against his car. As he started to right himself, I kicked him in the balls. I connected a lot better that time. Might have popped one of them. He was on the ground, moaning. I gave him a nice solid kick to the face.
I threw my hands up in the air and spun a circle. And the crowd goes wild! I felt so much better. The rock was out of my shoe.
I dragged him over to the back of the Cougar. I popped the trunk, then piled him in. I might have hit his head on the bumper a couple of times in the process. These things happen. I pulled his arms behind him and wrapped duct tape around them. I taped his ankles together. I slapped a piece of duct tape across his nose and mouth. He wouldn’t be able to scream or breathe, so it was a classic two-for-one.
I shut the trunk, found his keys on the ground, and took a moment to unlock his car and put the key into the ignition. I shut the door. The car wouldn’t have lasted the night in this neighborhood, but I didn’t want the thieves to break anything when they stole the car. I climbed back into the Cougar and sat there for a minute. I lit a cigarette and drank some coffee. I replayed it in my head. The people that had come out between my arrival and Trunk coming out hadn’t paid any attention to me. They were all your standard Tuesday night drinkers. I thought I was clean. I never saw Judy. I finished the cigarette, pulled two pieces of gum out of my backpack and popped them in my mouth.
I felt fairly sober. I was probably walking the legal line as far as blood alcohol content was concerned, but I’d have much bigger problems if I got pulled over for something. I started the Cougar up, then pulled out of the lot, and headed out to the desert.
I got to my disposal site a couple minutes before four A.M.
I took my time. Speed limit all the way. Windows down. Wind throwing my hair all over the place. I sipped my second thermos of sludge, smoked, and listened to music that bounced all over the musical genre map. I like the drive out the 15 in the middle of the night. It’s peaceful. I like the way the sodium-vapor lights look from the freeway. Everything is still that washed-out yellow, but you can see the stars and the mountains looming up in front of you.
I jumped on the 395 for thirty minutes. The lights of passing cars filled the interior of the Cougar for brief moments. A glance in the rear view during these moments revealed what might have been a beautiful young woman. Her blond hair did not move in the wind. She was smiling. Then the interior would go dark, and she would be no more. The sound of happy laughter drifted beneath the road noise. And a smell like a field of wildflowers in full bloom lingered all around me.
I left the last high desert city behind. I turned onto a dirt road with no marker. I cruised slowly. I knew the spots that would give the Cougar and her low-slung body trouble. It took about five minutes to cover the mile from the highway to the gate.
My headlights lit up the iron bars. It was a fancy gate out in the middle of the desert. The designer probably envisioned it blocking the end of a Beverly Hills driveway. There were ornate spikes all along the curved top. Two silhouettes of horses rearing up on their hind legs. It might work in the Texas wastelands, but there weren’t any horses around these parts. Scorpions, tarantulas, and rattlesnakes, but no wild stallions running free.
The gate was mostly decorative. Three lines of barbed wire ran to the north and south. The property was five hundred acres of useless scrub brush and the aforementioned poisonous things. If somebody wanted to get to the house beyond the gate, they wouldn’t have to try very hard.
I came to a stop, leaned out the window and punched in the code. The gate rolled away to my left. I drove through and the gate closed behind me.
Fifty yards in was a one-story log cabin. It was one of those kits you can buy online. They ship the materials to the building site along with all the nuts and bolts. An enthusiastic person could probably put one together in a couple weeks. The owner of the property had paid ten guys from the Home Depot parking lot to throw this one up in a day.
I liked it. There was a cozy bed inside. I wanted nothing more than to go climb into that bed and sleep. I had one more thing to do before I could call it a day.
I drove past the cabin another hundred yards. The road ended in a wide spot where I could flip the Cougar around. I turned the car off and climbed out. Big stretch. My body ached from the drive. My brain felt mushy because of the alcohol still in my system and a lack of sleep.
I popped the trunk. I don’t know if he ever regained consciousness. Don’t know if he struggled as his lungs ran out of oxygen. Didn’t much matter either way. He was dead.
I pulled the body out of the trunk. It hit the ground hard. I grabbed the feet and dragged the body into the desert for a few feet. There was a lid somewhere. I just had to find it. I felt like I was in the right spot, but I didn’t see it.
I relented and pulled my phone out, used the flashlight and searched the ground. I was about ten feet too far north. I pulled the bone bag over to a brown plastic lid set into the ground. I took a moment to light a cigarette in preparation. I filled my lungs with smoke and held it in as I pulled the lid upward. The smell that drifted up out of the hole was still godawful. I worked as quickly as I could. I got the feet into the hole, then lifted the body by the shoulders until it just kind of slid in. A second later, I was rewarded with a thick splash.
Restraining order served.
About The Author. . .
Eric Weule is the author of several novels. He lives in Southern California. Caffeine & Nicotine is a stand-alone novel, which features Kelly Jenks from The Interview.